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Reflections: What's in a name

She was, without a doubt, one of the cutest participants in Bromfield’s Class of 2020 parade. That evening of June 5, she was in her element—the wind coming at her, surrounded in blue and white balloons, her top off.

Scarlet is the fourth two-door Jeep Wrangler I have owned, all with removable hard tops that rarely came off. When they did, it was because one of my kids had borrowed my car or, as in the latest instance, my two granddaughters wanted to be chauffeured in it for their senior parade. Over the years, whenever it came to buying a new car, I would ignore the voice that said this time the purchase should be a car more appropriate for my aging self. And one friend in particular always suggested I get something that couldn’t roll over. But I stubbornly refused to budge from my criterion for a car: cuteness.

Pearl was the first, named unimaginatively for the dealer’s description, “pearl white.” She had a decorative orange and blue stripe around her bottom, and I fell for her because she was the farthest thing from the tan station wagon we were replacing. I liked the idea of sitting up high, and though I wouldn’t be off-roading in the sand dunes, I would be safer in a snowstorm. Of course that was irrelevant since I am too paranoid ever to be out driving in snow. When Pearl conked out, the diagnosis was a carburetor problem. She must have been one of the last to die from one of those.

In a similarly unimaginative way, Flame was named for the color in her paperwork. It must have been a quick change in the weather or false bravado that found me driving to Acton in sleet one winter morning. As I turned to go up the incline on the road to the high school, I saw a car coming down, sliding right toward me. There was nothing I could do, and I braced for the impact. I was OK, but Flame got towed to the body shop. As I stood at the side of the road with the police, I knew people were going by who recognized me, and I was mortified. Flame made a full recovery while I drove around in a not-cute rental car, cringing when any student asked about my Jeep.


Absent a more specific dealer description, I dubbed my next Jeep Blue, though no one ever called her that. She was just The Jeep. By this time I had grandkids, and it was a hassle to get a carseat and a kid into the car. Sometimes the older ones came in through the rear door and scrambled over into the back seat, sandy feet or snowy boots leaving their trail. Already becoming frustrated with The Jeep, I was terrified when it suddenly died on Interstate 495 when I was headed to Rockport to visit friends. Fortunately I had a cell phone at that time, though I hadn’t bothered to learn much about it. I called Cynthia, who told me to press the star button. She and Harry found me, the tow truck came, and the garage said they could be done in a couple of days. I forget what had gone wrong, but soon after, I was done with Blue, and in a moment of sanity, I was done with Wranglers.

Miss Liberty had four doors, automatic windows, and no possibility of going topless. She was a nondescript beige but cuter than a station wagon, which wasn’t saying a whole lot. She was serviceable and friendly to young children. And no one ever wanted to borrow her. She came down with rust and other diseases of old age, and when there was nothing more to be done for her, I was at a crossroads. I could switch to a different make of car, something safe, sensible, and appropriate. Or I could stay with the Jeep dealership where it would be so easy to make a trade-in for the third time. I could even be outrageous and go back to a Wrangler; after all, grandkids were grown and I never drove very far. And they’re so cute. Plus I had already had years of perfecting the Wrangler wave.


I came up with the name Scarlet all by myself. I did pause to consider that a bright red car made the choice of a Wrangler all the more ridiculous for an old woman. But she was available, and a “sand” or grey color wasn’t worth waiting for, despite the fact that Sandy would be a catchy name. I discovered having only two doors was inconvenient for giving a ride to more than one of my peers, since none of them—like me—feels spry enough to contort enough to get into the back seat. When I do give a ride to someone, it’s hard for them to haul up onto the front seat—I wish I hadn’t said no to the running boards—and invariably they shut the door as a normal car requires, not with the slam it takes to prevent the ding-ding of the “door not closed” signal. And I realized how awkward it is to pull over to chat with a neighbor and have no automatic window to open. Compensation for this annoying necessity to stretch over the passenger seat to open the door to talk came from someone who told me that roll-down windows could prevent me from drowning if I should drive into a deep body of water. That’s so reassuring; still, I try not to imagine that scenario. Fortunately, I had given myself an out as I had decided to lease the car rather than buy it.

That meant another decision point last November, when the four-year lease came up. I did consider all the negatives, but in the end I went with buying Scarlet. Her cuteness overpowered sanity. And how auspicious that decision was—who knew there would be a graduation parade!

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